Dichotomy: Ninth Installment "Merebon"
The indefinite line of predawn murk was chased across the sky as the sun rose on the first day of spring in the coastal city of Merebon. Restless in anticipation of the shift change, the night watch was starting to fidget when an alarm from the high tower ripped through the misty half-light of dawn.
Ships! At least twenty ships rounding the point! Sound general quarters!
Gazing intently into the burgeoning day, Captain Remel was just glimpsing the vessels as the horns sounded the call to battle stations. Twenty, you say? he shouted to the lookout on the tower.
At least, Sir
Looks more like forty the quickly estimated number of vessels rapidly rose as more and more craft came into view, sailing out of the sun and clearing the point, make that sixty large Ships of War. Damn him. This is where the Guard should be!
Disturbing reports had been filtering into the city of violent raids on isolated towns along the coast to the north of Merebon during the preceding months. By the time a company of troops could arrive, the raiders were gone. As a result, all of the fishing villages up and down the coast were clamoring for a contingent of the Home Guard to be quartered locally.
In response to this perceived threat and with the advice of his main advisor, the king had split the Home Guard into quarters, and three of these quarters he further divided into twenty smaller units each, with one unit going to each of the larger of the coastal villages. This redeployment of troops would have been difficult at any time, but given the tensions that had welled up with the neighboring kingdom of Schaferland, it was problematic to the extreme.
These troop divisions had upset the kings generals. They made necessary a new command structure based on the Kings advisors definitions. Instead of the standard division, regiment and company structure that the Home Guard had been accustomed to and trained under, they now had to adapt to a new and, in their view, foolish structure where they needed more officers to command the same amount of men.
Surely, you cant mean to damn the King?
Remel turned slowly on hearing the voice, Not at all. I wish the king good health and many lives. I was referring to whomever it was made His Highness send the bulk of our trained men to the hinterlands to protect some little villages. The Navy too! All divided up with no possibility of sustaining an attack against ten ships, let alone sixty. And now look!
Remel pointed to the inlet where several more ships had rounded the rocky promontory. The home fleet, or rather the bit of it that had been left to guard the port at Merebon, had sails up and were tacking into the wind, trying at once to block the ships streaming into the harbor while at the same time to maneuver into a defensive formation. Their chances at doing either looked to be slim at best.
Terebisi Gestian watched the harbor as he spoke. Arent we all equal under Mons gaze? Could you, a Captain in His Lordships army, stand idly by and watch the kings subjects be raped and killed by foreign armies? Would you not see them all protected? The villages were not attacked by vast fleets of warships but by a couple of rogue pirate vessels. It is all in the accounts given by the villagers. The ones who were lucky enough to survive, that is. To suggest that their lives are not up to the worth of yours is somewhat unsettling. Turning to Remel he added, Is one life worth more than another?
Save your sanctimonious rationalizations for somebody who doesnt know one end of pike from another. If I didnt know better, and I am not sure that I dont, I would think that someone had this all planned out from the beginning. Divide our forces by creating a diversion. Send our navy on some wild goose chase of a hunt so they are easier to pick off. This is just what I predicted was possible. And now it has happened.
Arent you, Terebisi sneered, Just a little bit too familiar with this plan? It does reek of conspiracy, and what better guise to hide behind than the captain who predicted it? I say that you, as well as predicting it, were in on the planning of it. Look at how you have acted, placing yourself above your station. Acting as if the King should do your bidding. Not caring about the people who may be poorer or less fortunate than you. You, who are of higher birth, think that you have the right to spend the lives of the kings dear and loyal subjects to protect your own. These actions border on trea
That will be enough, Terebisi! Ill not hear you pronounce the most stalwart of Merebons defenders a traitor. Why dont you go back to the Halal temple that you crawled out from under. It was Alon Luchi, or Lucky Luchi, who had jumped, quite literally, to his captains defense.
With one arm pinned behind his back and a sword to his throat, Terebisi still managed to somehow have a look of control about him. I will stand by what I have said, and I will report this incident and my suspicions to the king.
I can barely wait to hear how you twist it to make yourself seem the lowly trusted servant, standing by as the ruffians that the king has trusted his very life and kingdom to have been plotting his demise.
That will be quite enough, Luchi. He has enough manure in his mind to fertilize his reports to the king without your help. As for you, Terebisi, tell the King that his Captain requests a parlay with the Normens fleet. It might slow them down long enough to get most of the people out of the city before they are able to attack. Most of the folks with boats are already leaving. I have matters that are more important to attend to than standing here trading words with you.
With the completion of his sentence he turned and strode away, shouting orders to his men as he went.
Terebisi sneered and turned, making his way from the high ramparts back into the fortress proper. Walking at a brisk pace, he turned a corner and almost flattened a robed figure. Get out of my way, you careless oaf! I am on the kings business! He was almost by when the figure lowered his hood.
Careless oaf, am I? Learn respect when speaking to your Master! With a subtle motion of his hand and a whispered word, Terebisi stumbled and smacked his knees hard against the paving stones. Smiling at the obvious pain that it was inflicting, the figure gave a reluctant sigh as it released its invisible hold on the Sam Halal priest, allowing him to slump forward, gasping on his hands and knees as tears flowed freely from his eyes.
That is a much preferable position to adore me from. The fish in the sea catch men with the baited hook. Go and continue with Mons work. Now I am afraid that I can no longer grace you with my presence. Mon Be Praised.
When Terebisi looked up, the figure was gone. He raised himself painfully from the ground, trying not to wince as he continued on to the kings chambers, wiping the tears from his face.
He had regained his composure by the time he made the Kings chambers. Not finding the king there, Terebisi headed for the throne room. His haughty at the same time as meek character had returned by the time that he signaled for entrance.
The interior of the kings reception hall was by nature grand and imposing. Towering three stories overhead, the ceiling was arched stone carved all over with a laurel motif. Coats of arms of aristocratic families that supported the king were embroidered on sheets of snow white satin bordered with gold tassels and hung the in the shallow alcoves formed by the great gold leaf covered limestone buttresses that met in the center of the dome. The floor was polished slabs of red and black granite inlaid with green marble and bronze, the whole forming a giant crest of the rulers of Merebon.
The kings dais was placed opposite of the main entranceway. Two subordinate seats, one for the queen and one for his most trusted advisor, sat to either side of the imposing throne, upon which was seated the ancient king. As was the custom, the room was empty for meetings with advisors.
Rushing forward, Terebisi knelt before the dais, then got up and assumed his place beside the king. I have news of an apparent attack from the sea, Your Highness. And whats more, he continued, A disturbing report of treason among the officers of the highest rank. Your Captain General is in a mutinous state. As I was on my way from my morning walk, he accosted me, your most loyal servant and trusted advisor. He tried to have me killed! I fear not for my own life but for that of my honored king. He is a threat to not only your self, Highness, but to all that you have worked for over your many years as king. He is colluding with the enemy, he as good as told me so himself. Some of the Guard are siding with him, too!
Parlay. That is the one chance that we have. In my humble opinion, that is the only chance. See what they want, my Lord. Already the people are fleeing the city. For the love of Mondiasalo. Send the traitor captain with me to talk to them. That way, he cannot be here to rally his forces against you. They will not take the city while my name is Terebisi Gestian!
My Lord, are you feeling ill?
The old king, numbering eighty-seven cycles, looked to be in pain. His deeply creased forehead, lined from age and responsibility, was alight with the sheen of cold perspiration. This while the chamber was decidedly chilly.
My Lord, my King, speak to me. Do you want some of your medication? I have some right here in case
The king started quickly to reach for the proffered flask, then drew his hand back, resting it on the throne arm. His eyes, for a moment bright with moisture and fever, closed as a convulsion quaked through his body. When he opened them, they were returned to a more normal state, the blackness of the pupils seeming to stare straight into Terebisis brian.
My Dear Terebisi, the king slowly and sternly said, I pray you tell me what you have been giving me, via that flask of yours for I cannot remember even for how long you have been giving it to me.
It is but a distillation of herbs, My Lord, designed to make you feel better about the aches and pains that were plaguing you so. Before you started taking it, do you remember then how badly your bones ached? How you could not sleep the night through? I could not bear the thought of you, my king, so troubled by ill health and poor sleep.
Yes. The medicine you were giving me then did nothing if not make it worse. But then but then you gave me your elixir. I slept through the night without a problem. The sharp pains receded to nothing more than a dull and tolerable ache. At first it was like a gift from the One World, soothing and pacifying my troubles. But then.
The king paused and closed his eyes for a moment, Then more than my pains started slipping away. Memories of what had just happened were no longer accessible. I could remember being there to have those memories, vaguely recall who was in the room during an audience, but those memories were coated in a thick gelatin, distorting the things that I do remember and obscuring the rest. If not for you, my dearest friend and closest advisor, whom I saved from the riled citizenry bent on burning you alive, I would have no idea what had transpired during those periods of drugged despair. All I wanted was more of your panacea, more of the blessed liquid that would hold off the pain, hold off the shakes and the sweats to let me drift along, saying what you told me to because I knew it had to be right. The Kingdoms friend, and mine, would not lie to me, would not let things go awry
My Lord, Terebisi questioned, offering the flask again, When did you last have your medication? I can see that you are not well. Please. Take the draught that eases the pain. I beseech you to take it and drink. It will make you feel better. Trust me. Your dearest friend and closest advisor.
Trust, said the king. Throughout the fifteen spans I have known you, I grew to trust you. Always there, whispering in my ear the right thing to say before I even had to say it; Always knowledgeable on the affairs of state; Miraculously accurate. What a friend. What an advisor. Why, you would even bring me my wine at state dinners, though no one else of your purported rank would deign hold anything but a glass.
When people denigrated you because of your religion, for being a priest of the Sam Halal, I gave you the benefit of my stature as King of Merebon to help. I even made possible the construction of a temple of the Sam Halal, so you and people like you could worship in peace and not be ridiculed.
Many thanks to the great King, Terebisi murmured.
But now Now is a different time than was past. Is calls to me less strongly every day. Nots whispers grow ever more enticing as my weary bone and sinew already seem to be decaying before my very eyes. Your medicine has alleviated the pain of age, but brought a pain far worse.
The kings gaze was now purpose hardened: Flint to strike a spark or to cut deeply. His eyes, which had been rheumy and clouded for seasons, now had clarity, a brightness that could not be attributed to feverish mind. Clear, grey circles fixed about a deep blackness of pupils drew Terebisi in closer.
My Lord, you are not well.
Silence! the king uttered in a guttural whisper, I am as well as I can ever be expected to be again. I have not taken your tincture of herbs to addle my brain for five days now. The cost of not taking your poison has been great indeed. I shiver and sweat, vomit till blood and bile come out of my insides, and have my very claim to sanity questioned by the sights that appear before my eyes.
I knew something was afoot. My dreams were incessantly disturbed by brooding nightmares of what might happen to the nation that I had raised in wealth and stature. I knew I had to regain control: The control that I had let slip away to you.
Terebisi now saw that his absence for the prior half of a moon cycle had been a grave miscalculation. You have been most gracious to my humble self, he said, And never have I given you reason to doubt my loyalty. The elixir I gave to you as a friend, as one who did not wish to see you suffer. I see now that I should have exercised more caution in its dosage, Im sure. But to call it poison wounds me to the deepest part of my soul. You requested, and I did but comply with My Lords wishes. Surely you cannot blame me for what you yourself had the control over?
I do not blame you for my own weakness of character. But it was you who started me down the path with willing words and supposed care for My Lords well being. It was you who willingly gave me more of the elixir. It was you who made the suggestions. It was you who told me what to do with the distribution of the might of my kingdom.
So now, with a war fleet in Merebons harbor, you tell me that parlay is the only way to gain my life and the life of my Kingdom. You tell me that my Captain General is in league with the very ships and people who attack. You tell me that both of you should go talk with them. Well, I say that you are the traitorous one. The Captain General sent word that the ships were not from Schaferland, but from across the Northern Sea and Norme.
My lord, you are feverish. You should go and lie down.
I will not lie down quite yet. It would be all to easy to believe your words, drink your potion and succumb to a slow, painless death.
The pain of physical trauma is but a pittance compared to the agony of knowing I am all undone: My works as a king come to naught. All because I was to weak to withstand my trials as a being
Runners came from the west this morning
Terebisi blanched. It was indeed hard to realize that something you had worked long and hard for, struggled for, would not come to fruition. But this was not the case for him as a priest of Sam Halal, but as a person. Maybe.
I see as I saw in my dreams, all coming too quickly to thwart. You are glad, no, that the legions of the Normen are a days steady march away? Push us out of the city with your ships, and then fall on us as we wander about, looking for shelter and food?
My Lord, please. Listen to me. There is a way out. Let me go and parlay. Talk to them. We do not know that they are intent upon killing at all. They may be on a peaceful mission.
Peaceful?! Since when do peaceful missions consist of sixty ships of war and twelve thousand men sent unannounced into a sovereign nation? They may hope that we role over and acquiesce to whatever their demands are. That is always the hope of the Captains General of any force of arms. It saves lives and preserves infrastructure.
But you forget, I foresaw this happening in my dreams. That is when I realized that I still had something to do with my life. For my dreams showed me not only this turn of events, they showed me alternate turns and the paths we might follow all branching out from this one point. So now, Terebisi, I have a question for you. What happens to an Ubilfryn when they die?
I have not the slightest clue what the minions of evil have in store for them in the after life. Why?
Well, I was thinking you could tell me, but that must be an alternate reality or you could be lying. Regardless, let me impart to you this little piece of knowledge. The Sam Halal are infected with the taint of Skoteinos. They have infiltrated the organization just as you have infiltrated my confidences. I was just wondering if you were a pawn or a willing stooge. It looks like you are a willing pawn. Perfect. They could not have chosen better.
With these words the king rose from his throne, a long dagger in his left hand and his sword of office in his right. Tossing the dagger to Terebisi, he commanded, Defend yourself. With that he closed, swinging the sword in a long arc towards Terebisis head.
Terebisi ducked the first blow and scuttled to the far side of the old king. My Lord. I beg of you to stop. This is not necessary. All will be well if you just take your medicine. I can help you. You do need not do this. What end will killing me have that could save you? Could set you down another of the one worlds paths?
Another swing: Another dodge. Please, Sire. Listen to me. All has been well when you did listen in the past.
The king continued his assault, his great wide swings giving the advisor much time to compensate. On the next attack Terebisi, instead of moving to the side away from the blade, darted in, grappling to wrest the blade from the kings grasp. As he twisted the hand that held the sword, the old king yelled, Guards! Treachery! The Sam Halal! Then, grabbing Terebisis dagger hand, he thrust his body forward with all of the strength left in his depleted frame, over-balancing Terebisi and himself, spilling them both to the floor.
They landed in a tangle, the force of the fall plunging the dagger squarely in the kings middle. Terebisi could just lie there stunned at the old kings actions: The king had just stabbed himself with what could only be a mortal wound, and now lay there on top of him, bleeding his life out on the Sam Halal priest.
You see, I know, said the king to him, How things will transpire now. Then to the guards who were rushing to the kings aid, See this man whom I have called friend for these many years? He repays me by bringing these fleets down upon us. Then, when confronted with the vileness of his deed did stab this dagger into the king who had protected him and given him reason to love this great nation of ours. It is the Sam Halal who stand on our soil and float in the harbor; the religion that I had let grow and prosper here. These Noremen, they are lead by the Sam Halal. Send word to all countries. Do not trust them. Do not believe them. Liars and charlatans all. Some may seem trustworthy, but the events of today have shown us otherwise.
Turning to a mortified Terebisi, he whispered, I know your name, and it is not Terebisi Gestian. It is Skoteinos! As is said in your own scripture: ... and he who works in the ways of Him is to be called like unto Him. However you may deny the dark working within yourself, you cannot escape the dark ones powers working through you to bring chaos and destruction. A pawn you are, willing to bring killing for the sake of your religion of supposed peace.
The king coughed blood, and red speckling appeared on Terebisis face. Try him before his god and our One World! Make him kneel before the courts of the public! Make him, his religion, and all that he claims dear come before the public eye so the people may judge his true character and see the result of twisted religion! Not to damn the religion in and of itself, but to damn the practitioners who would have it reign over all others at the very price of life and the freedoms that we all cherish.
The king visibly weakened now, was panting, his shallow breaths becoming more ragged as the seconds ticked by. The color had drained from his face, a grey pallor replacing it, as he struggled for the breath to say the what he knew had to be done, what he had seen in his tormenting nightmares.
Be careful the way of the sword. It brings swift victory and slow defeat to the mighty. It brings swift martyrdom to the misguided. It brings woe to all but pleasure only to the demented. Grab hold of, and never let go those thing A sudden look of surprise overcame the kings face as the last bubble of bloody spittle erupted from his mouth, covering his chin and his clenched hands with a spattering of red flecked mucous, Too soon. More to say.
Terebisi cringed under the king as the old mans bowels and bladder released, the king spasming one last time before collapsing forward onto his advisor, his dead eyes staring directly into those of his former friend.
Terebisi looked at the ring of drawn swords and struggled, for a moment, for something to say. Hes insane! He thrust his own dagger into himself! He grabbed my wrist and toppled onto me. He attacked me! Never would I harm my beloved friend and King. Nooohhh, he wailed, till a hand clenched the hair on his scalp in a grip of iron, wrenching his head to the side.
If the king had not said to spare you for trial, I would let my men hack you to pieces where you lie, a little bit at a time. Have you not the sense of a worm? We can all see that you are the assassin who killed our king.
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